A little background on the film. In 1994, 14 year old San Antonio resident Nicholas Barclay vanished on his way home. In 1997, the family received a call that Nicholas was found in Spain and rushed to welcome him back after his undoubtedly traumatic experiences. Never minding the fact that the Nicholas they brought back had different eye color, a dark shadow of facial hair, and spoke with a French accent.
The film makes clear right away that this isn’t Nicholas, hence the title of the film, and spends the time retelling the story, interviewing the participants (with mixed in reaction shots that make the talking heads segments feel much more cinematic), and recreating events. The results are riveting. The documentary is assembled with all the craft that you would expect from a master documentary filmmaker and can easily stand beside the work of Errol Morris and James Marsh.
More than that, this is a film that’s concerned about the nature of deception and the power of the individual to deceive. Towards the end of the film, The Imposter spins a story that’s so compelling it leaves the audience with questions of whether he’s actually on to something or if it’s another lie and an F for Fake style deception. The Imposter is a snapshot of the very definition of the unreliable narrator and yet he’s such a compelling storyteller that he sucks you right in and leaves you with more questions you want to ask him, even if you know that the answer is likely a lie.
Milwaukee Film hosted a discussion after the film which I wish I had time for. This is definitely a film that you want to think about and discuss with a group of friends. Deception is the theme of the film and the filmmakers make a point that nobody is above being deceived in the right circumstances, including the audience that may be sitting in judgment.